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Published December 3, 2009

So with fond memories of my formative Dreamcast years dancing in my head and a lifestyle that has become more increasingly suited to portable games (read: busy), I was first in line to pick up my preorder of Phantasy Star Ø when it hit the US in early November. And it was bizarre.

If, like me, you tend to check game reviews before putting down your cash, you would have been pretty confused to find Phantasy Star Ø sitting on store shelves last month with barely a mumbled “meh” from the critical community. IGN, 1up, Gamespot, Giant Bomb – no one had anything to say about the supposed “heir to PSO‘s legacy” until around the end of the month. In retrospect, perhaps it’s the most telling sign of how much relevancy the franchise has bled over the past few years – no one’s willing to stop shooting terrorists or stomp on Goombas to pay a Rappy a second look now a days.


A Rag Rappy – like a Chocobo, but much more fun to hit.

And as for the game itself – it’s certainly not that bad. PSØ sports some of the nicest 3D graphics you’ll see on the DS and does a lot to capture the feel of the original game. The layout of the command “palette,” the ability to feed and evolve your robotic “mags” and the very basic, although essential, online mode will keep fans playing for a few hours. All of your favorite weapons and timed button-press combos are back as well, rare loot is once again blood red in color, and there’s even a touch-screen version of the “Symbol Chat” system that you could use in the original game to amuse yourself with crudely drawn dick-jokes and sound effects. It’s very easy to see that a lot went into this game to make fans forget about Phantasy Star Universe.

If only that were enough for me.

For as close as PSØ comes to being like the Dreamcast and Gamecube iterations, the more glaringly evident all of the differences seem. Students, you’ll learn the following after playing PSØ for a couple of hours (and yes, some of this material was covered in prior chapters of your text book) :

  • Using the D-pad to move in 3D space – particularly for an action game – is awful when compared to an analog stick.
  • A wi-fi only, net-based game can be extremely frustrating. Especially when friend codes are involved.
  • The DS is no substitute for a Dreamcast. Not in processing ability, and absolutely not in sound quality.
  • A generic, anime art style usually does more harm than good.

But perhaps I wouldn’t be so disappointed if I weren’t currently obsessed with my PSP. Admittedly, as I learn how increasingly unwilling I am to carry around a myriad of game disks or cartridges with me, the notion of a better-looking, downloadable Phantasy Star for my PSP seems nicer and nicer. Adding to this was the debut of Phantasy Star Portable 2‘s demo on the Japanese PSN.

And although it may surprise you, there’s no greater fact to convey my excitement about Phantasy Star Portable 2 than this: I’ve sunk roughly twice as many hours into this PSP demo than I have for all of Phantasy Star Ø . It might have taken 2 portable entries, but it seems like Sega is finally coming closer to recapturing the cohesiveness that made PSO great in the first place. You’ve got an analog stick, a great matchmaking system, lush, beautiful environments, amazing sound quality and enough mechanical tweaks to make it feel like you’re playing something new and old at the same time. Oh, and did I mention you’ll be able to download the title? To jump in and out of the game whenever you please without switching disks? Yeah, I’m in.


Which would you rather fight? Really?


So it’s with a heavy heart, yet high hopes, that I put my PSØ Hunter into early retirement and turn in my DS Hunter’s license. Something greater seems to be drawing closer on the horizon, and if the demo’s been any indication, we may finally get to visit Ragol on our own terms once again.

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